The Prodigal Son’s Brother
who’d been steadfast as small change all his life
forgave the one who bounced back like a bad check
the moment his father told him he ought to.
After all, that’s what being good means.
In fact, it was he who hosted the party,
bought the crepes & champagne,
uncorked every bottle. With each drink
another toast to his brother: ex-swindler, hit-man
& rapist. By the end of the night
the entire village was blithering drunk
in an orgy of hugs & forgiveness,
while he himself,
whose one wish was to be loved as profusely,
slipped in & out of their houses,
stuffing into a satchel their brooches & rings
& bracelets & candelabra.
Then lit out at dawn with a light heart
for a port city he knew only by reputation:
ladies in lipstick hanging out of each window,
& every third door a saloon.
The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son is kneeling in the husks.
He remembers the man about to die
who cried, “Don’t let me die, Doctor!”
The swine go on feeding in the sunlight.
When he folds his hands, his knees on corncobs,
he sees the smoke of ships
floating off the isles of Tyre and Sidon,
and father beyond father beyond father.
An old man once, being dragged across the floor
by his shouting son, cried:
“Don’t drag me any farther than that crack on the floor—
I only dragged my father that far!”
My father is seventy five years old.
How difficult it is,
bending the head, looking into the water.
Under the water there’s a door the pigs have gone through.
The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs’ eyes followed him, a cheerful stare—
even to the sow that always ate her young—
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind a two-by-four),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red;
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.
But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern—like the sun, going away—
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats’ uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make his mind up to go home.
(translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé)
Feeling today like the Prodigal Son
just arrived back in his father’s arms,
I observe the world and all it contains.
June’s milky sky glimpsed through a window
the sunlight dancing over fresh green leaves,
clusters of sparrows that scatter, chirping,
full-blown petunias in pots on verandas,
all strike me as infinitely new,
astonishing and miraculous.
My grandson, too, rushing round the living-room
and chattering away for all he’s worth,
my wife, with her glasses on,
embroidering a pillow-case,
and the neighbors, each with their particularities,
coming and going in the lane below,
all are extremely lovable,
most trustworthy, significant.
Oh, mysterious, immeasurable wealth!
Not to be compared with storeroom riches!
Truly, all that belongs to my Father in Heaven,
all, all is mine!